Podcast – Simple Tricks and Nonsense (ep. 101)

Virtual Memories Show:
Levi Stahl – Simple Tricks and Nonsense

“The biggest thing I learned editing The Getaway Car is that a working writer’s work is never done.”

Let’s kick off 2015 with a podcast about one of the 20th century’s great America writers, Donald Westlake! Our guest, Levi Stahl, is the editor of The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany (University of Chicago Press). We talk about his history with Westlake’s crime novels, why Parker is Westlake’s greatest achievement, why the author wrote under so many pseudonyms, what it was like to be a working writer and how that concept may not exist nowadays, and what Westlake project he’d love to bring into print.

Levi Stahl on The Virtual Memories Show

We also talk about Levi’s day job as publicity manager for U of Chicago Press, his advice for people looking to get into publishing, why he loves twitter, how the internet has helped and hurt book criticism, what makes him put a book down, what he’s learned about book marketing over the years, his favorite menswear store in NYC, how he can support both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, and more! Give it a listen!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Levi Stahl is the publicity manager for the University of Chicago Press. He has served as the poetry editor for the Quarterly Conversation, and has written for the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago Reader, the Second Pass, the Bloomsbury Review, the Front Table, the New-York Ghost, the New York Moon, and McSweeneys Internet Tendency. He tweets at @levistahl

Credits: This episode’s music is Life of Crime by The Triffids. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Stahl by me.

The persecutor within

It’s been far too long, dear readers! But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the month of June is devoted to the Top 20 Pharma / Top 10 Biopharma issue of my magazine. In addition to researching and writing a shit-ton of profiles, I also had to transcribe and edit a bunch of interviews I did with major companies and their outsourcing partners. I hate that process, but don’t trust other people enough to let them handle it. (I have a weakness for Q&A-style articles, so I try to include one or two in every ish.) Late in the process (as in last Monday), one of the pharma companies told me that the person they’d given me to interview had subsequently left the company. In the two weeks between the interview and my sending them the transcript. They didn’t get around to telling me this for 10 days, and offered no solution outside of, “You can’t run any of his quotes.”

I built a lot of flexibility into the structure of this ish, so I can absorb the loss of a two-page article a week or so before press time, but I’m still peeved enough at their crap behavior to put them on my banned list for future publicity, articles, etc. I mean, it’s not like they’re even going to notice this, being a $20 billion company, but I have to have my petty triumphs.

Still, I finished writing my Tops profiles a day ahead of schedule, putting myself in a less stressed mode before tomorrow’s trip to DC for the annual BIO convention. I still have to clean up the page layouts and write short intros for the two features, but those will be manageable. (With a little work done over July 4th weekend.)

During BIO, I’ll be staying at a hotel called the Helix. If my room gets downgraded to a double, I’ll laugh at the cosmic jokester.

Anyway.

This is my first post in a while, and I thought I’d ramble about Bob Dylan. He turned 70 a little while ago, which got me listening to his music. I also found myself watching two of his great videos, Jokerman and Series of Dreams. On Facebook, I pondered whether any other musician has enough built-up history/iconography to freight a video like this one:

“Freight” felt like an odd but appropriate choice, given the artist and the video.

Amy & I also watched No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s 87-hour documentary about Dylan. Not being too much of an acolyte, I found a lot of the details and anecdotes illuminating. I thought it was interesting to see a documentary about a guy with encyclopedic knowledge of music made by a guy with encyclopedic knowledge of film. I was surprised at how at ease Dylan was in his interview segments. I was expecting a mystic making cryptic / gnomic pronouncements, rather than a plainspoken older guy. (Which isn’t to say that he was necessarily honest, just that he was speaking plainly.)

I enjoyed the documentary up until the last hour, when I realized it was only going to cover Dylan up to the 1966 motorcycle crash (with a coda of his first post-crash live appearance, in 1968). Don’t get me wrong; it was a really engaging documentary. I loved learning about the schisms in the folk scene, how Dylan evolved from protest-singer to rock star, how his relationships went, both with lovers and other musicians, how he dealt with fame in the early days, how he transformed himself from that kid from Hibbing, MN.

But I realized as the documentary unfolded that that wasn’t the Dylan I wanted to learn about, exactly. See, I was hoping that the narrative would continue into the 1970s (and maybe beyond). I wanted the Dylan who embraced his Judaism, became a born-again Christian, got divorced, recorded Blood on the Tracks, sank, rose. What I wanted, I think, was to find out how he tried to live once he got all the fame and riches, and had no idea what to do. A lot of the documentary involved the matrix of Dylan and his audience: how betrayed they felt over his distance from the protest movement, how shocked they were when he went electric (ha-ha). I would have loved more insight about Dylan when those audiences became stadium-sized and his popularity was more immense. How did he cope?

I guess I’ve always been fascinated by that question, “What next?” It’s because stories so rarely seem to end, so much as just stop. It’s why I’ve always adored Anna Karenina‘s ending, because Levin finally understands that there’s no miracle secret to living a good life. He at last understands the day to day negotiations to try to live better. I think what I wanted from a documentary of Dylan is some idea of how he dealt with his life once he achieved (what he thought were) his goals.

And that made me wonder about the filmmaker. See, Martin Scorsese has confounded my expectations in exactly this fashion before, with The Aviator. That biopic about Howard Hughes focuses on the industrialist’s movie-making aspirations, and ends just before HH’s obsessive-compulsive disorder sends him totally ’round the bend. Sure, there are a few scenes of him losing his grip for a while, but I was much more interested in the Hughes who wore tissue-boxes as shoes, never cut his fingernails, and whittled himself down to 90 lbs. by the time he died. A pal of mine, SF writer and critic Paul Di Filippo, had the same reaction when I mentioned the movie to him: “That’s the Howard Hughes that I find interesting. I wish the movie had started from that point.”

Of course, I understand why Scorsese would focus on HH-as-filmmaker, what with that aforementioned encyclopedic knowledge of film. But as a character, batshit-nuts Howard is much more interesting to me than young up-and-coming Howard. And post-rise Dylan would have helped (me) complete the image of Dylan as an artist and as a man. Or at least it would have put together a narrative sequence, like a series of dreams.

Unrequired Reading: April Link Showers

Bizarre! I was just settling in to collect my May Twitter-links for a big Unrequired Reading when I discovered that last month’s load o’ links never went live! So here’s all of April’s great stuff! I’ll post May’s tomorrow!

* * *

It’s time for another month’s worth of Twitter links, dear readers! If you want to follow along, I’m at twitter.com/groth18!

First, the retweets:

RT @mookiewilson86 (paul raff): David Koresh had a better homestand than the Mets.

* * *

RT @ESQStyle Esquire Style: And the best-dressed male guest at the #RoyalWedding is… not David Beckham.

* * *

RT @felixsalmon (felix salmon): Wherein Martin Amis blathers on for 4,000 dutiful but unnecessary words about Christopher Hitchens.

* * *

RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk): Client request of the year.

* * *

RT @simondoonan (Simon Doonan): Creative factory: Simon Doonan, My Faves!

* * *

RT @GreatDismal (William Gibson): “WE HELPED YOUR GRANDAD GET LAID” #daytonbootsvancouver

* * *

RT @mattzollerseitz (Matthew Zoller Seitz): “‘After Hours’ exists to prove that ‘Taxi Driver’ actually displayed some restraint. @notjustmovies

* * *

RT @JPosnanski (Joe Posnanski): In honor of touching CNN story, I write a little more about Nick Charles and a moment I’ll never forget.

* * *

RT @asymmetricinfo (Megan McArdle): Why Europe won’t develop as an independent military power

* * *

RT @kottke (kottke.org): Hilarious fake TLC promo

* * *

RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk): Bored at work. Photoshopping Bieber’s head onto things.

* * *

RT @questlove (?Love of The Roots): Man. Not even “OJ Guilt” is the proper colloquialism for what I feel after eatin Cinnabon.

* * *

And now, the links!

NBA Action: Bet On It! #IhadSpursandMagicinthefinals

* * *

Ah, #vodka, with your “marketing gimmicks that make getting drunk seem like a gateway to fame and fortune

* * *

The bowling alley of the #Frick: it’s no basement of the Alamo, but still.

* * *

There’s now a computer as dumb as my boss. #thatswhatshesaid

* * *

Joe Queenan goofs on the #gehry glut.

* * *

Is anyone at the #royalwedding sporting a monkey-tail beard?

* * *

Via @khoi, abandoned Yugoslavia monuments of awesomeness.

* * *

Xanadu comes back to life! (Will #MichaelBeck and @olivianj be at the opening?)

* * *

Xanadu: More of disaster than @XanaduMovie? #likedecoratinganuclearreactor #bringbacktheAlexander’smural

* * *

In the movie, I see Billy Bob Thornton as the local, and Pesci as the mobster: #greateststoryever #trustme

* * *

Tefillin: it’s like Jewish blood pressure.” Go, @MitzvahTank! #areyouJewish?

* * *

Will nobody think of the #pistachios?!

* * *

#AllStarSuperman never should’ve released the sun-eater from captivity:

* * *

The Walk of Shame goes #StreetStyle, via @sartorialist

* * *

So VCs are like the AIDS activists of our time?

* * *

I’m all for taking advantage of gorgeous chicks, but sheesh! #modelscam (via @felixsalmon)

* * *

#HaroldBloom and his “elite Europhile glasses” #agon

* * *

Eat lead! #staedtler and #fabercastell at war

* * *

Every so often, I remind myself why I find contempo literary fiction useless and stultifyingly dull

* * *

Go read this #BenKatchor interview! Nownownow! #CardboardValise (just plow through the “what is comics?” section)

* * *

@felixsalmon delivers a (much appreciated) Jonathan Franzen smackdown

* * *

@witoldr on the secret language of architects.

* * *

This #Houdini article escapes from the need to write in complete sentences. #escapeartistry

* * *

I guess I oughtta get around to reading #GeoffDyer sometime, huh?

* * *

In honor of tonight’s season 2 premiere of #Treme on #HBO, check out this interview with #WendellPierce (#BunkMoreland)

* * *

#ChrisElliott has a DAUGHTER on SNL? #igrowold

* * *

Dali makes aliyah!

* * *

Ron Rosenbaum implores us to visit (Joyce’s) Ithaca (but not much else). (I admit I’ll likely skip #Ulysses)

* * *

I’m awfully happy with my @allenedmonds, I have to say

* * *

I look down on my wife. #shekicksmeintheshins

* * *

#Starbury = Jim Jones?

* * *

Is it good or bad that my TV/movie/prose diet is so similar to that of #StevenSoderbergh? #MillersCrossing!

* * *

25 years ago: Graceland and the Gatwick Baby

* * *

“People who drink coffee are different in many ways from those who don’t drink coffee” #whataboutgin?

* * *

Geoff Dyer on being allergic to David Foster Wallace’s writing (his compare/contrast w/Federer is great)

* * *

“You look into the fiery furnace and see the rich man without any name” #wallstreet

* * *

Neat video of @billy_reid at home.

* * *

@simondoonan on camp: “I am not the brightest Art Nouveau lamp in the room…” #needIsaymore?

* * *

NOLA: The Big Hypothetical

* * *

Fun interview with Glenn O’Brien, onetime Warhol employee and current #StyleGuy for #GQ: #howtobeaman #glennobrien

* * *

Ah, get back to me around yer 20th reunion, ya young bastid.

* * *

Neat take on Android, Google’s business model, and moats.

* * *

Authors and broken promises. #Icantgetstarted

* * *

I would prefer not to poke you. #groupmeh

* * *

Um, the good news is that “cancer” doesn’t exist (the bad news is that it’s more complex than anyone thought) #uhoh

* * *

Would it have more success if it were called a “scrodpiece”? #probablynot

* * *

“It’s still real to me, dammit!” #soareconcussions #andearlydeath #wwe

* * *

When Antonioni met Tarkovsky: #shakeitlikeaPolaroidpicture

* * *

RPG = Rocket-Powered Genius (of design) #rocketpunchgeneration

* * *

@rupaul answers all questions, except, “What’s up with the mustache?” #dragrace

* * *

@david_j_roth speaks truth to pizza (I still don’t understand how @pizzahut stays in business here in NJ.)

* * *

Is there a Damien Hirst level to unlock? #jeffkoonsmustdie

* * *

By @mattnycs: Vote for the man in the small hat: a rabbi runs for office … in Uganda: Parts I and II #really

* * *

Hot chicks with (old) douchebags: #Iblamesociety #Ialsoblamehotchicks

* * *

No Shakespeare in Topeka? #talentnotgenius #billjames

* * *

#Koppenburg: why I don’t bike. #whoneedstheexercise?

* * *

Accidental Mysteries: masked #seenandunseen

* * *

GREAT piece by @comicsreporter on a trip to the #centerforcartoonstudies

* * *

Because, as we know from #chrisrock, books are like Kryptonite to… certain people: #padandquill

* * *

The Perplexitude of Hilfiger

* * *

Proto-Facebook

* * *

Darkness at Noonan: #tomgoestothebar (happy 60th, Tom Noonan!)

* * *

And I close this month’s edition with a non-link:

“I used to believe that worry was a talisman against something bad happening to you.” thx for the wisdom, @ConanOBrien (& @MarcMaron)!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: